Calcium score scan: Why you might want this heart test
Heart disease often shows no symptoms, so many people don’t realize there’s a problem until it’s too late. One option that can help catch the disease early is a calcium score scan. Cardiologist Will Halligan, MD, explained how this noninvasive test works and who should consider getting one.
What is a calcium score scan?
The calcium score is a low radiation dose CT scan that looks for calcium buildup in the heart arteries. It doesn’t involve dye, and the scan takes less than a minute.
“Calcium is a marker for cholesterol plaque or coronary artery disease,” Dr. Halligan said. “When we see calcium in the heart arteries, it means that person has coronary artery disease or cholesterol plaque in their heart arteries and is at elevated risk of heart attack.”
Cholesterol plaque can build up through a process called atherosclerosis and eventually lead to a blocked coronary artery, causing a heart attack.
What do the results mean?
If the test is positive or elevated, there are several medications that can be used, such as statin medications that can lower cholesterol, prevent future build up and significantly decrease the risk of heart attack.
“It also helps people know their risk and allows them to make lifestyle changes to improve their heart health,” Dr. Halligan said.
These changes include:
- Eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight
- Increasing physical activity
- Controlling other chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes
Who should get a calcium score scan?
The scan is not for everyone. “The people who should consider this test are those in an intermediate risk category,” Dr. Halligan said. This is someone who might have risk factors, such as a strong family history, but no known diagnosis of coronary artery disease.
To find out if a calcium score scan is appropriate for you, talk to your primary care physician.
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